Can KidsPort inspire interest?

Published June 26, 2006

Tampa's port has this image problem. As much as maritime businesses tout the port's economic muscle, most regular folks react with at best a glimmer of recognition, at worst a collective yawn.

Maybe they'll have more luck starting to educate future citizens in their formative years.

Toward that end, the Propeller Club of Tampa Bay has quietly been raising money to build a $500,000 port exhibit in the proposed Children's Museum of Tampa.

KidsPort would be a model of the Port of Tampa where visitors could float toy ships through channels to docks, pick up shoe-box-sized cargo containers with tongs and roll tiny trains on tracks. Plans even call for blowing fans and pipes dropping "rain" to simulate a thunderstorm.

The Propeller Club, which represents maritime and port-related businesses, has raised $350,000, including a $50,000 pledge that Tampa port commissioners endorsed last week.

Children's Museum officials have begun raising $15-million to build the museum beside Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. They're shooting for an opening before the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa.